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With roster spot up for grabs, Orioles outfield depth uneven this spring

SARASOTA, FLA. — After center fielder Adam Jones lamented the athleticism and defense in the Orioles' corner outfield spots, the team seemed to prioritize giving players who fit that bill a chance this spring.

They already had Chris Dickerson in the system, but brought in Craig Gentry as another talented defender who can play a corner outfield position and compete for a roster position. Add in the athletic minor league free agent Logan Schafer and Rule 5 pick Aneury Tavarez, there were plenty of new faces who could possibly have improved the Orioles' outfield defense.

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However, especially in contrast with some of the bat-first outfielders that share the camp stage with them, the drawbacks of such players are becoming evident. To this point, none of them are hitting much at all.

Joey Rickard, who is the incumbent when it comes to spare outfielders, is off to a good start, but few others can say the same. Gentry homered Wednesday in a win over the Toronto Blue Jays, but that was just his fifth hit in 20 at-bats this spring. And that's the best of the bunch.

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Dickerson, who missed some time with a foot problem that he said sapped all of his power from his front foot and caused swinging to be difficult, has just one hit in 14 at-bats. Schafer has one hit in 18 at-bats, while Tavarez has four hits in 18 Grapefruit League at-bats.

For both Gentry and Dickerson, proven major leaguers when they're able to stay on the field, their health is what's going to distinguish them this spring in Buck Showalter's eyes.

"Today was the guy that shows why he's been such a sought-after third and fourth outfielder over the years when he's healthy," Showalter said after Gentry homered Wednesday. "The big thing is just staying on the field. He and Chris Dickerson both, it's kind of been their challenge. They all know how athletic and good they can be."

Gentry has been hampered by several injuries, including back problems, that have limited him the last few years. But the Orioles believe he's now healthy and has a chance to be a suitable right-handed hitting fourth outfielder if all goes well. Dickerson, though he hits left-handed, has similar upside for them.

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Which, if any of them, stick around on the Opening Day roster is far from decided. Both Tavarez and fellow Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander must be offered back to their old clubs or exposed to waivers if they don't make the team, and if Rickard continues to perform in the spring, it could be hard to send him out, even if he has minor league options. It helps that the team has three days off in the first eight days of the season to manipulate the roster and maybe carry fewer pitchers than normal. There's also the return of Michael Bourn (broken finger) that could complicate things.

Either way, while there has been strong defense from the entire group this spring, the Orioles will hope to see more days at the plate like Wednesday from Gentry to bolster his candidacy. The same goes for the rest of his peers.

"He's going through little periods that remind him what he can do when he's healthy and remind everybody else, and that's what we were hoping when we brought him in," Showalter said of Gentry. "We felt like we could present that opportunity for him. He's got a lot of people here that know him and he's comfortable around. … I know when [hitting coach] Scott [Coolbaugh] called me, we thought he could be a piece for us if he can get back to where he was. He's still a real athletic ... he brings a lot to the table that teams are in need of when he's healthy."

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